Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Grand Isle State Park Bike Overnight - New Pedals, a Camp Chair, and Instructions to "Don't Forget the Pie!"

Mount Saint Helens, ready for an overnight. The Clementine will get her outing in September.
My goal this summer was to go on four bike overnights, one per month. For August, I planned to try out the Clementine, but with rack difficulties I put that idea on hold, instead opting to load up the Mount Saint Helens. If I'm honest, the idea to tour on the Ross has always been on my mind, so the decision wasn't so much consolation, but a chance to try a simple tour on a step through bicycle, one I'm completely confident and comfortable riding for short distances.

Loving the MKS "sneaker" pedals.
First, I made time to replace the Tioga pedals with Rivendell's MKS "sneaker" pedals then loaded the bike with bare necessities: a change of clothes, the usual sleeping bag, mat and single person 3 lb. tent, camp stove and stainless cup, bathing suit and water shoes (which I never used), the usual toiletries, and one superfluous item: a 1 lb. Helinox ground chair, a new item that I wanted to try on a tour. As I was getting ready to leave, my husband mentioned that if I could possibly carry it, I should return with a pie. It's kind of a joke between us, because once we were able to haul a pie back from apple country in South Hero, and that pie made it home a little squished, but definitely edible. Since then it's become our mantra: if you go there, then find a way to bike a pie home. So then I pushed off  at 4 pm. with a lightly loaded bike. Immediately, I fell in love with what I couldn't feel with the "sneaker" pedals, the spindle that used to protrude and caused my feet to slide on the old touring pedals. The new pedals are keepers!

The U-shape racks on the bike ferry are covered in corrugated flexible pipe so bicycles are not scratched.
I easily pedaled the flat waterfront path, connected with the causeway trail,  took the ferry, and was pedaling on South Hero in the Champlain Islands. I had a slight headwind, but with less than 20 miles, tops, to get to Grand Isle State Park, I realized this would be the shortest bike overnight I'd ever done.

I stopped  at Keeler's Bay Store for a couple items to supplement dinner and breakfast and parked my bike next to another  bicycle, this one heavily loaded with four monstrous panniers. And surely, I surmised, the bike belonged to someone on a very long tour. As I roamed the store, I kept my eye out for whom the bike might belong to, but the store was busy and by the time I went back outside the bicycle was gone. I suspected I might see the owner again in the campground because it was nearly 6 pm., but there was no guarantee that was their final destination for the evening.

Within a mile I easily caught up to the bicycle, piloted by an older woman and as luck would have it, we were headed the same direction. I slowed down and we swapped our stories. Jan, from California, was embarking on a two week tour of Canada having just retrieved her bike from a Burlington bike shop.

Cooking tomatoes and yellow beans from my garden, then adding ramen and tuna fish.
At the park entrance we agreed to camp together and were able to split the site fee. The lady in the office didn't quite know where to put us at first but settled on the paddlers' site, which proved to be a great choice. Lake Champlain reserves special campsites along it's 110 mile length for anyone traveling by human powered watercraft. The patch of lawn was next to the beach and secluded, so even though the site lacked a picnic table, it was a short walk to our pick of 4 tables with a beautiful northern view of the lake.

Jan's and my tent easily fit in the site. It had been a sultry day and the evening continued in the same vein. An offshore breeze was welcome filtering through my tent opening (in blue) so after dark I set up my little chair which happened to snuggly fit inside the tent. I have difficulty spending more than 6 hours on my back so the chair was a splurge that I hoped would pay off in the long run and make tenting a little easier on me, especially during shorter daylight hours. I'm happy to say the experiment worked - I spent an entire hour sitting upright, reading Never Cry Wolf until I was ready to retire.

In the morning Jan and I rolled our bikes to the picnic table so she could organize her panniers. She'd been in a hurry the previous day to get moving and was exhausted from a red eye flight so now she had the time to properly organize her gear. As I soon discovered, Jan carries extra clothing so she's never cold. Indeed I wore a t-shirt while she added a layer of fleece. But still, it seemed she was carrying way too much gear for a two week journey. However, Jan is a seasoned world traveler and certainly understands her comfort zone.

Jan and I parted at 8 am. after swapping addresses and phone numbers. I invited Jan to stay with our family on her return to Burlington where she will fly back to California.

While Jan had a nice tailwind to propel her into Canada, a headwind greeted me as I headed in the opposite direction, retracing my route. However, as with short rides, any wind is doable. I was too early before the orchard store opened it's doors, so I walked in a cemetery, spending several quiet minutes, indeed recognizing family names from nearby establishments.

The orchards were bursting with red fruit and as I later found out, some varieties of apples are harvested as early as July and continue well into November.

With string and yarn I secured a whole apple crisp, packed in a box (this orchard sold crisp and not pies, but I knew my family wouldn't care!). I rolled on more asphalt, then dodged potholes on a dirt road, then pedaled a relatively smooth stone dust causeway, then more bumpy pavement, over a wooden bridge before returning to our family camp.

When I opened the box at 11 am. my family stood around and marveled at it's perfect shape, then sniffed the dessert, and looked at me with salivating eyes. I told them to dig in and we all gobbled heaping portions as a treat on the deck overlooking the lake.

While the bike overnight was a mere 40 miles round-trip, the Ross performed well, I love the new pedals, my chair will now be a must-have on future trips, and I met a wonderful lady. As I've mentioned before, it's all about the experience that makes these simple journeys worthwhile.

Monday, August 22, 2016

The Sunset Ride and Feeding the Soul

Many of my summertime rides involve skedaddling home and, more often than not, completing errands en route. It is summer, after all, when we try and fit in as much as possible before cool weather sets in. So, when I find a little free time before sunset, I like to relax and pedal a few miles, enjoying the evening along the lake shore path (with eye wear for bug protection!).

It's time for quiet reflection, time to feed my own soul. There's something about the calming influence of rhythmically rotating the pedals as the sun goes down that brings a hectic day to a proper close. Bright, low angle light illuminates the lake, the trees, and eventually as the sun kisses the Adirondack Mountains in the west, the sky turns gold, then orange, then purple.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Noteworthy Improvements to the South Burlington Bike Path

As I exit Farrell Park at the T-intersection with Swift Street (photo above), the bike path seemingly shares the same asphalt as the automobile lane. Until two weeks ago, the white striping was non existent and with summer leagues and families using the park, especially around 5:30 pm, the intersection was becoming dangerous with increased traffic entering and exiting the park. Automobiles cut dangerously close to me while I waited, some drivers leering at me, as if wondering why I wasn't getting out of their way. Fortunately, the problem has been taken care of and should not be an issue going forward (until the paint wears off again).

At the same intersection (mentioned in first photo) where I turn left onto Swift Street I must quickly move to the bike lane then make a quick right turn (just beyond utility pole in above photo). The bike lane has worked fairly well, except when a stream of automobiles also turns right, each driver managing through the green light, except for the last few vehicles which cut the corner close trying to get through the intersection before the light turns red. Along with re-striping the bike lane, the city also adhered 3 white flexible poles onto the pavement (one is discernible in the photo above next to the large vehicle's front bumper), bordering the bike lane all the way around the corner, creating safe passage for cyclists.

Between the re-striped lanes and addition of flexible delineator posts, I am reminded how simple and inexpensive projects in key areas can make a huge difference to cyclists's safety. Thank you, City of South Burlington.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Pedals and Going Au Naturel

I've been thinking about removing the toe clips on my commuter bike for sometime, but when I was out on an evening ride and my foot slipped around on the pedal, I discovered a screw was missing on the plastic clip, which became the sign I needed to follow through and remove the dang things altogether.

It might seem like a no-brainer to most people. I imagine most commuter cyclists have never used toe clips or clip-in style either. Why complicate a commuter bicycle, you might ask? In stop and go traffic, it doesn't make sense, I know. So why all this fuss and angst? Why did I ride for years around town with a finicky, flip-pedals-backward-at-every-take-off style of riding?

The short answer is: it's been a habit since 1983. 33 years! It's how I rode across the country; it's how I rode around the world. It's how I commuted in Portland, Oregon for 10 years and here in Vermont for the last 20. With my feet secured to pedals, it's supposed to be efficient, but as I look back, I wonder if that's technically true. I am not a fast rider - never have been. I average 10 m.p.h. so I presume toe clips were a security blanket, a necessary appendage on all my bicycles.

Removing the toe clips has also become symbolic. Like shedding parts of my past, I am ready for a new adventure, riding mainly step through bicycles, without clips. I have let go of my emotional attachments to the Miyata and Trek, ready to part with one and part out the other.

After one week without the toe clips, I have come to embrace this new style of riding. My sandaled feet can breathe better. I like easily planting my feet on the ground. I feel faster without the extra step of removal or inserting feet inside the clips (nominal increase in speed, I'm sure!). On the flip side, it is awkward unlearning a 30+ year old habit and I'm afraid my feet may slip off the pedal and cause injury to my shin. It is clear I will need wider and/or longer pedals to truly make this transition become more comfortable.

At the moment I am awaiting the arrival of my Rivendell Clementine, a bike I plan to tour with, going au naturel, truly immersing myself into the world of platform pedals. Or that is at least my hope. I will give touring without toe clips a heartfelt try.

Have you ever experienced something similar, something you once considered integral to cycling, but have decided you can do without?

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Girls Ride Out, August 2016

Thirty women are ready for a bicycle stroll. This time around we are accompanied by Eva Sollberger and crew who are filming, pedaling, and interviewing for an upcoming Stuck in Vermont edition (here now). That means awesome press for Girls Ride Out.

First off, we head down North Avenue to experience and introduce the pilot project: re-striped auto lanes to now include a two-way bike lane.

Then it's time to turn around and we regroup along the waterfront trail.

All that woman-powered bicycle goodness.

For many ladies, this is their first time with Girls Ride Out.

And I have it on authority that it won't be their last.

We convene at Zero Gravity again, a good place for interviews and photographs.

Half the group sticks around for conversation and cheer. Four of us stay until dark, where organizer Christine leads a mini Girls Ride Out, complete with more loud tunes, until we split off and make our individual ways home.

Thank goodness I remembered my bike light.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

3 Ferry Bike Overnight, Just Because

Camping on lush lawn at Cumberland Head State Park.
It's a rare occasion for my husband and I to have 24 hours together on a weekend, so we took advantage of our good fortune, and crossed Lake Champlain on the 3 o'clock ferry to New York.

My partner in last minute mode, stuffing odds and ends in his panniers. 
It was also a celebration and experimentation of sorts - leaving our teenage boys alone overnight for the first time. We left a 2 page to-do list, just so our sons would remember to feed our pets, and pick up the kitchen, among other basic household chores that teens are notorious for forgetting. Both boys have become fairly independent and get along well together so it was time for the next step.

Taking a short break to eat.
My husband and I love this route, a fairly easy 40-45 mile loop that most people ride in one day, but it's also a scenic journey that can be enjoyed as a simple overnight, with easy access midway to a very nice campground. I completed a similar route 3 years ago, then, tacking on additional miles to get in shape for an upcoming longer trip. However, this time we pedaled the direct shoreline road, gazing at calm lake water for most of the journey.

Our boys would've loved watching this mower.
We stopped for a snack break beside a property that had a robotic lawn mover. As we munched, we were captivated by the black stealth-like handle-less mower on a seemingly erratic course, zigzagging, disappearing behind the house, cruising out front again, bee-lining diagonally across the lawn towards me then backing up and heading somewhere else. We wondered how such a contraption could be an efficient machine, tracking all over the place...

However, what a fun little diversion! 

My husband loves to bring everything but the kitchen sink, whereas as I age, I'm leaning
toward the minimalist approach.

Cumberland State Park campground borders a good-sized beach, complete with cement boardwalk and swimming area, however, the beach water when we visited, unfortunately, was full of slime...
hope it's not always so.
Arriving near 7 pm, we set up in a nearly full campground, but our site is spacious and full of thick grass - important to cyclists wanting a good night's sleep. Then we hightailed it to the beach for the remaining daylight.

My husband's in the white shirt.
Walking barefoot in the sand, we admire the calm lake, and unusual views of Vermont's Green Mountains...

and eastern views of New York's Adirondacks.

In the morning, my husband, (an early riser) had gone to get milk for our coffee and oatmeal. Gotta love a partner who surprises me with a donut!

Then it's 4 fast miles to the ferry docks...

walking the bicycles on-board next to motorcyclists (heading from Ontario to Nova Scotia). It's a 20 minute crossing and we depart by 9 am, quickly pedaling along a wonderful dirt road with more glimpses of Lake Champlain.

Of special interest: a Bike Stop at a farm barn. Free water fill up with ice cream and snacks for sale plus farm produce. As more cyclists ride the flat, low trafficked back roads in South Hero, the community is embracing bike tourism.

The causeway bike ferry is late for their first 10 am run, so we relax, watch the sailboats and power boats navigate the narrow opening. Then, the final ferry ride is quick and we ride the familiar 11 miles home.

A sub 24 hour bike overnight is a satisfying adventure, allowing solo time with my husband, doing something that we both love - perfect on a weekend. We arrived home to discover our boys managed quite well without us and the kitchen was clean. Yeah!

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Our Teenager Rides an Old Raleigh Grand Prix

The Raleigh Grand Prix, after our son removed toe clips, fender, and rack.

My husband brought this vintage Raleigh Grand Prix back to life several years ago, acquiring the bike from his sister. He stripped the bike to the frame then added parts from his old Peugeot, which included nice Wolber wheels, old ESGE fenders, and a svelte English steel rack (one I've coveted ever since).

Fast forward to this summer when our 14-year-old son's mountain bike needed repair and was unavailable, waiting at a local shop, and he was responsible for getting himself to his summer program (the course agenda coincidentally was Bike Mechanics). He's tough on bikes, like some boys are, pushing a bike's limits on jumps, barreling off curbs, etc. - the reason he was now facing an old ten speed as his primary means of transportation.

But first, he insisted the Raleigh's metal toe clips had to go - a wise choice, no need for complications on an unfamiliar bicycle - and our boy proudly removed tiny screws that held the clips in place. But then there was the old niggling problem that neither my husband nor I could figure out - how to keep the rear brake from locking up. However, our son took one look at it and tightened the long bolt that attaches the brakes to the frame - a simple fix indeed! He also removed the wobbly rear fender (it was missing an integral bracket) before he was satisfied.

For the better part of a week, our son rode the Raleigh with two friends 8 miles round-trip to his bike mechanics program. He marveled how fast the bike was, compared to his mountain bike, and his buddy wanted to know how to acquire an old ten speed of his own.

One afternoon our son came home, his knee and elbow a bloody mess. His wounds were cleaned by the time my husband and I arrived around 6 pm. - hours after our teenager had returned from his program. It took a while before he recounted his accident - not because he was distressed - he's clearly a rugged individual and he knows bike wounds come with the territory, but rather he eventually felt like recounting the incident.

"So I was riding to Hunt's when I tried to shift, the chain got stuck, the bike locked up, and I went over the handlebars."

I know the Raleigh requires finesse, with its down tube friction shifting, much like my Miyata. I also know my son, who is often careless, and was probably rushing to get to class on time. The two are recipes for potential problems, as we've experienced with this child in the past. So I asked, what'd you do?

"Well, we had to get the chain unstuck, then when I got there the teacher helped me to fix the handlebars."

I wondered who'd cleaned him up. So I asked, did you show the teacher your knee and elbow?


Kids heal amazingly fast, as it turns out. A day later he'd forgotten about the incident.

The Raleigh, however, has more scratches, the bar tape is shredded, coming loose, and there's a new tear in the seat. Our son has since removed the beautiful steel rear rack.(sorry, no photos with rack)

Two weeks later the novelty of riding a zippy ten speed has worn off, especially now that his mountain bike sports a new derailleur. He's back to his regular antics: flying off jumps in the backyard, barreling downhill on our neighborhood street to go airborne off homemade plywood ramps, plus the additional twist, typical of today's teens: recording these boyhood feats on video and sharing the results with his friends.

We can take away one good experience from the week. Our son has confidence and new skills to begin fixing his own bicycles. Hallelujah.